The blazes have left thousands homeless and almost a hundred dead. Thankfully, rain this past weekend helped to slow down the infernos as full containment nears.
San Juan County Fire Warden Heber Heyder spent the past eight days prior to Thanksgiving at the staging perimeter of the Woolsey Fire in Camarillo, California.
“We were in staging the whole time, so we actually never got out to the fire line,” Heyder says regretfully. “We had six type one engines and type two, all volunteer fire departments from around the state.”
Heyder was the sole representative for San Juan County because he has all the certification requirements necessary in order to make the trip to Camarillo.
Heyder found out through the state that California was in need of volunteers and decided to make the trip along with thousands of other volunteers from around the state and country.
“It was really busy,” Heyder said of arriving at the initial staging area. “It was organized chaos if that makes any sense at all.
“There was definitely a lot of action. We were, I think, one of a thousand engines that they had ordered up that were kind of going in and out.
“There were a lot of California crews and engines and other folks from around the country that we saw as the days went on.”
Last summer, as wildfires raged in Utah, California crews came to the state’s assistance at several occasions throughout the fire season.
This time it was Utah’s turn as fire wardens and crews from around the state answered the call and brought personnel and equipment to both the Camp Fire and the Woolsey Fire.
“It was great to help out,” Heyder said. “It’s good training, honestly. There was fire behavior and things we don’t normally see and do here in Utah. It was pretty interesting to see how California teams work.”
When Heyder and other members of his crew in Utah arrived at the staging in Camarillo, the fire had already reached 50 percent containment.
“When we first got there, they were almost 50 percent contained,” Heyder said. “We pretty much knew at that point, at least not 100 percent, but we speculated we probably wouldn’t be there for very long.
“Once they get over that 50 percent (containment) and for as many resources that we saw there, we knew we wouldn’t be there long.”
Although he didn’t get to stay very long at this particular fire, Heyder hopes to bring some of the necessary training to local area firefighters in order to be able to take engines from San Juan County for future events if needed.
“Hopefully as a task force leader, once we get some more folks here qualified up, I can actually take some engine out from here to help out when we can,” Heyder said.